Perfect Pets for Small Spaces & City Living

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While Covid-19 has created a devastating global impact, there is some “pawsitive” pandemic news: animal shelters across the United States are running out of animals to adopt. It’s easy to understand why: people sheltering in place at home have decided that now is the perfect time to share their space with an animal companion to keep them company while social distancing.

Animal shelters across the country in California, Colorado, and New York have reported major upticks in adoptions that have all but emptied their feline and canine kennels. In April, staff at the Chicago Animal Care and Control Adoptable Pets program reported a first-time event: “CACC has no dogs currently available for adoption. We’ve never typed those words before.”

Animals finding forever families is great news, but there’s more than one way to help animal shelters out. Pet fostering, a temporary agreement to house an animal to free up shelter space and resources, has also skyrocketed. Interestingly, from April 2019 to April 2020, fostering has increased by 70 percent in America’s most populated cities: New York and Los Angeles.

This comes as a surprise since these cities are located in states which typically rank lowest for pet ownership. But as it turns out, fostering is a great alternative to owning, especially for people who live in small living spaces in big cities or can’t in good faith make long-term commitments to a pet. And to minimize human crowds at the animal shelters, Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), reports that some shelters are transporting animals to their adoptive or foster families via ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft.

While adopting an animal companion may seem like a no-brainer, it’s a big responsibility that requires careful consideration. Just like humans, animals have basic needs and pet owners are responsible for providing them. Animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) encourage people to “adopt, don’t shop,” saying that purchasing animals from pet stores encourage commoditization and cruelty towards animals. Adopting or fostering an animal from a city animal shelter or humane society is the preferred way to give back to your local community and save lives.

Before bringing an animal home, stop and consider your personal space needs as well as the basic needs of an animal. Renters: does your lease agreement allow pets? Homeowners: do you have pet allergies?

Veterinary access is also an important consideration as some animals such as hamsters are considered “exotic” and may require specialized care if they become sick or injured. If animal care cost is a concern, know that financial support for fostering is typically offered through the shelters and human societies who coordinate these programs. Spaying or neutering a pet is essential to prevent unwanted animals and if an animal is adopted or fostered very young, shelters will require that an animal be kept indoors and isolated until the procedure is done.

Adoption, unlike fostering, means that an owner accepts full financial responsibility for their animal, which can add up to $1,770 per year for a dog or $870 for a cat.

If sharing your square footage with an animal companion is your idea of a pandemic silver living, here are some great pets to adopt or foster even if you live in a tiny, overpriced studio apartment.

Cats

Known as the pride of the Internet, photos and videos of cats account for the most-viewed content, so it’s no surprise that 25 percent of US households have cats as pets. By adopting or fostering a cat or kittens, you’re signing up for a fastidiously clean and attention-loving furry roommate who may make you Instagram famous or just be a cuddly mid-day nap partner.

The ASPCA outlines the basics for cats which includes feeding premium-brand food, interactive toys, staying up-to-date with vaccinations and regular vet visits, collars and ID tags, and more. While it’s generally true that cats are independent, like all creatures they need regular social interaction.

As for their space needs, cats need a place to sleep, a litter box, a scratching post, a place for their toys, and if they are prone to excessive snacking, food should be stored in a cabinet or other enclosed space. Most cats love treats, but the ASPCA says that no more than 5 to 10 percent of their diet should be treat-based and provides a list of human foods off-limits to cats.

Kittens and cats with health problems often require special nutritional needs and medical care such as daily injections or medications. For those who have found baby kittens and want to make sure they survive and thrive, Hannah Shaw, also known as “The Kitten Lady,” has a best-selling book and loads of free content describing how to care for newborns and older as well as determine their age and nutritional needs. When well-cared for indoors, cats can live anywhere from 10 to 15 years or longer.

  • Basic needs: Fresh food and water served in clean dishes, regular grooming, engaging play-time, soft sunny spaces to sleep, and annual vet check-ups.
  • Owner responsibilities: Scoop the litter box daily, provide a sanctioned scratching surface, and give attention daily with snuggles or playtime with toys.

Chinchillas

Considered great companions for people living in mild climates who like to stay up late, Chinchillas are feisty little creatures with big ears and soft fur. However, maintaining their charm requires two to three dust baths a week which requires a regular clean up around their cages.

Forever Feisty Chinchilla is a Connecticut-based sanctuary for chinchillas in need who urges prospective chinchilla owners to do their research before adopting. Often considered “pocket pets,” these little creatures draw people in at pet stores but are sadly surrendered to pet shelters by people who don’t know about their unique needs for survival. They should not be handled often and can bite if they are disturbed from their daily sleep schedule.

If well-cared for, Chinchillas can live up to 15 to 20 years. If you’re a nocturnal person who doesn’t mind a messy companion, a chinchilla can be a tiny desk-side muse who can keep you company while you type your next manuscript or write lines of codes at night. Don’t forget to clean up after them and give them the playtime they need on a regular schedule.

  • Basic needs: A minimum 36 x 30 x 18 cage, indoor climate-controlled temperatures of 55 to 70 degrees F, fresh hay and pine shavings for dust baths, daily interaction, fresh food, and water.
  • Owner responsibilities: Regular “exotic pet” vet visits, a play area that’s fenced off and free from chewable wires, daily cage cleaning, and an interactive daily routine.

Dogs

Loyal is the best word to describe dogs and as the saying goes: “Dogs have owners; cats have staff.” So who comes out on top in the cats v. dogs debate? While cats may rule the Internet kingdom, in real life nearly 39 percent of US households own a dog—a rate that’s 14 percent higher than cat ownership.

And it’s easy to see why: most people adore returning home to the earnest energy of a wagging dog tail. Like most animals and people, dogs thrive on routine and depending on their age, size, genetics, and disposition may be perfectly content with being exercised once a day or playing modified fetch while laying down on a cozy rug.

Most people think of small dogs such as pugs or small terrier mixes as ideal companions for small living spaces. Those who prefer larger canine companions can consider greyhound adoptions. As countries across the world ban dog racing, greyhound adoption agencies have stepped up to provide loving homes for these retired runners.

“They sleep 22 hours a day, just like giant, skinny cats,” says Jenny Graham who now shares her home with two rescued greyhounds and her husband. Most greyhound adoption agencies recommend a daily 20-minute walk on a leash.

When adopting or fostering a dog in a small space like a studio apartment, it’s imperative to know if a dog has a habit of barking or not. Barking can be a deal-breaker for even the most permissive pet-friendly rental agreements in an apartment building. Generally, dogs live 7 to 20 years and smaller animals generally live longer than larger ones.

  • Basic needs: Fresh food and water; a soft place to sleep; consistent use of behavioral commands; a kennel big enough for the dog to stand up, stretch, and turn around when owners are away; and daily exercise such as walks, runs, or playing fetch.
  • Owner responsibilities: Picking up feces on walks, regular vet check-ups, regular play-time, and weekly grooming.

Fish

Clean freaks take note: keeping fish as pets is not an easy task. The image of a lone goldfish swimming in a clear glass bowl seems like an ideal low-maintenance pet option, but fish require more care to be healthy and happy. PETA encourages those looking for fish as pets to adopt from shelters or friends and urges people to never purchase them from pet stores.

Fish need 24 square inches of water for every inch of fish and always a pump to keep water continuously flowing and fresh. Home decor enthusiasts: your fish needs calm and stimulating aesthetics too, so get creative and decorate their tanks with real or fake plants and some colorful stones or perhaps a mini underwater castle.

With regular tank cleaning, fresh water, and interesting surroundings, fish can provide a calming presence with a relatively small household “finprint.” Goldfish can live 10 to 15 years with proper care and if a tank is big enough, pet owners can share their space with a thriving and colorful fish family.

  • Basic needs: A water pump, a tank or bowl that measures 24 square inches for every inch of fish, and food.
  • Owner responsibilities: Clean fish tank regularly and provide a stimulating environment.

Hamsters

If cooking miniature meals is your idea of creative fun, having a pet hamster could be a win-win. Be ready to serve dinner late though; these cheeky creatures are nocturnal. Like chinchillas, hamsters prefer to sleep most of the day and are active at night.

If you only have two to three years to commit to one animal, adopting a hamster can provide you with short-lived company. Depending on the breed, hamsters are tiny or tinier palm-sized pets, so choosing a cage that will keep them safely confined is essential.

Basic hamster needs include a well-ventilated wire cage, aspen tree shavings, or shredded toilet paper for bedding. The hamster version of a treadmill is a wire wheel—a necessary source of daily exercise for them and perhaps an existential crisis trigger for their humans.

As for food, hamsters need a nutritionally balanced diet which can be achieved through pelleted hamster mixes, seeds, and fresh foods. Adopting or fostering hamsters is as easy as going to an animal shelter, human society, or contacting an organization such as Loving Spirit Hamster Rescue who aims to love, socialize, and find hamsters forever homes.

  • Basic needs: Provide fresh food and water daily, clean shavings for bedding, a sizable cage with a wheel to exercise, and a small enclosed space in the cage to rest and sleep.
  • Owner responsibilities: Provide annual exotic pet vet visits, clean cages once a week, and perhaps experiment with crafting tiny meals.

Rabbits

Want a sociable and furry pet that’s not a dog or cat? Try your luck at adopting a rabbit instead. While they do require a decent amount of crate space of three to four feet with plenty of height for hopping, they can be taken out of their crates for playtime or rest on your shoulder while bingeing on Netflix.

Like any creature who is bored, rabbits can become destructive if they don’t have enough toys to chew on or surfaces to jump to and from. A plastic tray-liner is essential for daily “poop pellet” clean up and also to protect rabbits’ soft and sensitive feet.

Since most rabbits are food-motivated, they can be clicker trained to do tricks and be rewarded with treats. Rabbits are vegetarians who will thrive on daily diets of commercial rabbit pellets or leafy green vegetables such as lettuce, carrot tops, and cucumbers.

If you have space for a litter box, rabbits can be trained to relieve themselves in litter, which makes for easier and less frequent cage cleaning. Remember that rabbits like to chew and it’s important to make sure that electrical cords and like surfaces are off the floor so they won’t hurt themselves or destroy property. If kept indoors, rabbits can live anywhere from eight to 14 years.

  • Basic needs: A cage large enough to hop around in, fresh food and water, daily social time
  • Owner responsibilities: Clean cage every few days, provide regular vet visits, and social and physical interaction.

Tarantulas

If you aren’t squeamish around spiders and prefer your furry pets to be seen and not touched, consider adopting a tarantula. If well-cared for, tarantulas can live for three to 10 years in a warm temperature-controlled environment.

Professor Linda Rayor, a senior lecturer and senior research associate and Cornell University specializes in arthropod social behavior and offers simple instructions to care for tarantulas: don’t handle them because if dropped, their fragile bellies can splat and they can bleed to death. Also, keep them warm and humid, and feed them crickets once or twice a week.

Tarantulas don’t require a large amount of cage space, but their soil needs to be sterile and sourced from potting soil without minerals or other approved organic material. Provide them a piece of bark big enough for them to climb under and hide. Avoid sharp edges when decorating tarantula cages to protect their sensitive underbellies.

Tarantulas are typically passive, but they can react aggressively if they feel threatened. Some have defense mechanisms that involve flicking urticating hairs that sting when lodged into skin or eyes, so it’s not advised to look at these tarantulas from the top of a cage with the lid off.

Unless you want to risk being bitten with ¾ inch fangs that deliver venom that hurts like a bee sting, never handle a tarantula and instead admire your pet spider’s eight-eyed perfection from the side of its cage. As well, consider sharing the love of your arachnid on spider awareness on Save a Spider Day held on March 14 every year.

  • Basic needs: To be left alone, kept warm and humid, and fed crickets once or twice a week.
  • Owner responsibilities: Remove molted skin from cages with safety goggles and long forceps.
Rachel Drummond (Writer)

Rachel is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @oregon_yogini).